Hop on The Electric Highway with WDNA

Jazz is a many-splendored art, whether it’s in the form of Ragtime, Swing, BeBop or what not. And when you wanna tune in to all that Jazz and hear all its many splendors, there’s no better option than Miami’s own WDNA. Licensed in 1977, the PRI-affiliated station has long given South Florida the opportunity to glean the best and the brightest of every aspect of America’s own classical music — and you can bet it’ll continue to do so for a long time to come.

Hayes at WDNA

Mark E. Hayes at WDNA

But WDNA goes well beyond being an exemplary listening experience; in fact, you could say the station’s become a Jazz benefactor to the entire community. Among the many endeavors the station’s instituted to ensure South Florida maintains its swing is the annual Jazz History Lecture Series, which provides in-depth looks at the many splendors the art form has to offer. This month the Series looks back at that rad development known as Fusion, which, according to the lecturing programmer Mark E. Hayes, has not only salted more than a few rock classics, it just so happens to be rooted in rock itself.

Culture Designers got with WDNA’s Critic-at-Large, who also happens to host both Passing Notes and Sunday’s Time Warp, and asked him to fill us in on what’s what. Here’s how he played it:

Would you please tell us a bit about WDNA’s Jazz History Lecture Series?

The series is in its second year, and offers a range of lectures over a typical academic year — September to May. It’s part of WDNA’s ongoing efforts to be more than a radio station, but a cultural institution. WDNA’s performance space, the Jazz Gallery, is a place where the station hosts concerts during the day and evening, shows movies, has dances, and, of course, showcases art. The Jazz History Lecture Series is a part of giving the WDNA community what it wants — a cultural institution that supports all things jazz.

Who’s the mind behind the Series?

Jim Gaisor, a wonderful pianist and teacher at New World School of the Arts, has been the curator of the lecture series since the beginning. He’s been great to work with this year my first time around, as I had several ideas of what I might want to talk about, and he found a way to fit my interests in cultural history and music into the framework of the series. I’m thrilled to be included — there’s some real heavyweights in the speaker series.

Who’ve been some of this season’s featured speakers?

Chuck Bergeron talked about the music of the big band era, Fernando Ulibarri about the history of jazz guitar, Donald Spivey about be-bop and the counterculture, Ed Calle about Michael Brecker. The great trumpeter Brian Lynch went through all the great trumpet players who were in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. And Jim Gaisor himself presented on the Great American Songbook.

Isn’t there a very special guest program slated for this season’s closing?

That’s right. Loren Schoenberg, the artistic director for the National Jazz Museum is going to lecture on the rhythms of jazz and how they can be traced back to their roots in West African music.

This month’s Lecture is all you though — what have you planned for jazz fans?

We wanted to present a topic that was a bit more contemporary, so the notion of jazz fusion — what is it, exactly, and where did it come from — is the subject of my lecture. It has the somewhat audacious title of, “The Electric Highway: Wah-wahs, Moogs, Marshall Stacks, and the Road to Fusion.” I talk a bit more than the other lecturers about technology and economics than some of the other experts, but there’s still a great deal of music to listen to. I had a chance to interview John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter for this project, so that’s a feature of the lecture as well. I mean, both of those guys played on Bitches Brew!

How’d you come to lecture on this particular genre of jazz?

My musical interests, going back to when I was a kid, came out of my love of rock, progressive rock, and the guitar. My weekend music show on WDNA, the Sunday Time Warp, is known for having a wider range of musical styles than the more “straight ahead and in the pocket” programs. So fusion is just part of the crazy mix of music I play every weekend.

Might this also be something you’d feature on your WDNA feature, Passing Notes?

When I’ve had a chance to interview what you might call contemporary “fusion” artists, I’ve featured them on Passing Notes and my occasional music feature, Segment3, which is part of the Sunday Time Warp. So all of my conversations with guys from bands like Snarky Puppy, Medeski Martin and Wood, Kneebody, and the Jazz Punks help me frame my thinking for the lecture.

This isn’t your only weekly foray into the wild world of pop culture, is it?

Passing Notes, which runs every Friday on WDNA, is the place where I get to talk about anything I want — new books, movies, comics, sports, you name it. If I have a particular interest — zombies, for instance, I might start another blog along those lines. [For instance] I have a blog, Mort-Vivant, that deals with the undead.

What prompted you to embark on that side of the cultural equation?

Zombies are awesome. Except when they’re after you, of course.

Do zombies ever feature in your Sunday Time Warp?

No, but there is a full cast of characters on the show who are completely made up.

What other odds and angles might you bring into play each Sunday?

The premise of the Sunday Time Warp is that I’m the captain of a polytemporal pirate ship that sets out each week to explore the musical galaxy. That’s an odd angle itself, but we get listen to some great music.

And for Tuesday’s Jazz History Lecture?

If you like Jimi Hendrix, you’re going to appreciate just how central he really was in the creation of jazz fusion. The wah-wah pedal is the zombie of jazz — you might not want one in your band, but they’re awesome.

WDNA Jazz History Lecture Series: “The Electric Highway: Wah-wahs, Moogs, Marshall Stacks, and the Road to Fusion” with Mark E. Hayes takes place Tuesday, April 28th in WDNA’s Jazz Gallery 2921 Coral Way Miami.

WORDS BY John Hood

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